Small view of the space shuttle against a blue sky.

When I was twelve, I went with my mom, brother and a family friend to see the Space Shuttle land at Edwards Air Force Base. It was the first mission after the Challenger disaster, and the orbiter was Discovery.

I took a roll of slides using a manual SLR camera and (for the landing itself) a telephoto lens. With the last shuttle mission ending tomorrow, I decided to track down the slides and scan them.

Pink clouds, blue sky, and darkness on the ground.

From what I remember, we drove out the night before and slept in the car. It was still pretty dark when we got up, even though the landing wasn’t until mid-morning.

Shadows stretch across a dry lake bed.

We were out on the edge of a dry lake bed, far enough away that we couldn’t see the landing strip.

Crowd of people with lawn chairs facing the same way and walking aroundor walking around on the dirt.

There was a bit of a festival atmosphere, with vendors selling food, sodas and souvenirs. Mostly, though, everyone was clustered as close to the fence as they could get to see the best view.

Tiny speck of white and black in the middle of the sky.

I put on a telephoto lens for the landing itself. When Discovery first came into view, it was barely a white dot in the sky…even through the camera.

Still tiny, but just enough to see the shape of the fuselage and tail.

Here’s that same shot, cropped so that you can see it at the original scanned resolution. What’s amazing is that even at this distance, you can make out the shape.

My grandfather, who had given me the camera and was teaching me a lot about photography, showed me how to make prints in his dark room. I made an 8×10″ of this shot of the shuttle approaching the landing strip, though I think today I would go for the next one instead:

Just a fence and a dry lake bed.

I took the telephoto lens off after the landing. This should give you a better idea of just how far away we really were from the shuttle. NASA wasn’t taking any chances with civilians!

Long line of cars and RVs waiting to get out on a desert road.

Here’s the line of cars waiting to leave the base. I don’t remember how long it took to get out, but I do remember that we shut the engine off for a long time waiting for the cars in front to move.

Hills and chaparral with the shuttle in the distance.

On the way out, I caught one last shot of the shuttle in the distance. You can just barely see it near the center of this photo.

I’ve uploaded the full set on Flickr. I know the photos themselves aren’t fantastic — we were several miles away, and I was only twelve after all, but there’s something special about photos you took yourself at an event you witnessed personally.

5 thoughts on “Watching the Space Shuttle Land in 1988

  1. I think this is AWESOME because it is not only a piece of your personal history but of your nations and humanity’s history. It is a great ‘snap shot’ and story board or an extraordinary time. Thanks for letting me into your world. ~ Maya

  2. With today being the 28th anniversary of the Challenger explosion I thought back to when I too went to Edwards AFB 2 1/2 years later for the return of Discovery. I got there the day before and slept in my car with my two young children. We were able to get right on the fence and watch the landing. Thanks for the pics…brought back great memories!

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